Becoming a Parish Councillor
What is a Parish Council and why become a Parish Councillor?
What is a Parish Council?
A parish council is a local authority that makes decisions on behalf of the people in the parish. It is the level government closest to the community, with the district authority (Breckland District Council) above it in the hierarchy.
As it is the authority closest to the people, parish councils are invariably the first place people will go with concerns or ideas. For this reason they are a vital part of any community.
Why become a Parish Councillor?
If you live in a community where something ‘big’ has happened, you’ll know that when people in the community need support and guidance, it is sometimes the parish council that is turned to.
By becoming a parish councillor you become someone your community will look to for help, guidance and support , a community leader with the power to influence decisions for the benefit of the people you serve. Seeing your community change for the better, as a result of decisions you have helped make, is something that can give you a sense of achievement and pride.
What decisions do Parish Councils make?
Parish councils make all kinds of decisions on issues that affect the local community. Probably the most common topics that parish councils get involved with are planning matters (they are statutory consultees), crime prevention, managing open spaces and campaigning for and delivering better services and facilities.
It’s true to say that on their own, parish councils have limited powers to make decisions. But they do have the ability to negotiate with, and the power to influence, those other organisations that do make the final decisions (such as the county council, health, educational authorities, police etc).
In this respect parish councils are extremely powerful. The organisations that make the final decisions know that a parish council gives the best reflection of how a community feels about something, and its views will be taken seriously.
How much time does it take up?
The Council meet once a month on the fourth Tuesday for the council meeting, to which members of the public are also invited. Meetings may last two or three hours, depending on the agenda set for the meeting to discuss. Some councils have committees to deal with specific subjects, such as environmental issues. In addition to the regular meetings, councillors are required to attend other meeting representing the council for example acting as a representative on an outside body, community activities or helping develop a new project for the community. Such meetings won’t happen every day, so it’s not going to take over your life.
How long does a parish councillor serve for?
Once elected, parish councillors sit on the council for a maximum of four years. If they then want to stay in the post they can stand for re-election.
Am I eligible to be a Parish Councillor?
To stand for election on a parish council, you must:
· be a UK or commonwealth citizen, or;
· be a citizen of the Republic of Ireland, or;
· be a citizen of another Member state of the European Union;
· be a least 18 years old.
To be eligible to stand for an election for a particular parish, you must:
· be an elector of the parish, or;
· for the whole of the previous 12 months have occupied (as owner or tenant) land or other premises in the parish, or;
· during the previous 12 months have worked in the parish (as your principal or only place of work), or;
· for the whole of the previous 12 months lived in the parish or within three miles of the parish boundary.
You don’t have to be connected to a political party.
If you do become a parish councillor you will have to sign up to the Code of Conduct.
What powers do parish councils have?
They have a wide range of powers which essentially related to local matters, such as looking after community buildings, open space, allotments, play areas, street lighting, car parks and much more. The council also has the power to raise money through taxation, the precept. The precept is the parish council’s share of the council tax. The precept demand goes to the billing authority, the district council, which collects the tax for the parish council.
Harling Parish Council has 11 Councillors who stand for election every four years. The duties and functions of a parish council are many and varied.
The Council meets monthly and considers planning applications and any other matters referred to it by local residents. There is also an annual meeting which all parishioners are invited to attend. All meetings are advertised on the council notice boards. Residents can bring to the attention of the parish council anything that concerns them, either directly or through the Clerk. If matters raised are not the responsibility of the council, the clerk can bring them to the attention of the proper authority.
The Council employs 3 members of Staff, the Clerk and 2 Groundsmen. The Clerk to the Council is the Proper Officer of the Council and as such is under a statutory duty to carry out all the functions of a council’s Proper Officer, and in particular to serve or issue all the notifications required by law.
Don’t take our word for it!
The best way to find out what it’s like to be a parish councillor is to talk to someone who’s doing it now. Come along to a parish council meeting, or speak to one of our councillors and find out what they think of the job.
The Role of a Councillor
They are elected to represent the interest of the local community as a whole and promote a harmonious local environment. The number of elected Councillors depends on the size of the area, in Harling we are able to have 11 Councillors.
Local Councils are the first tier of governance and are the first point of contact for anyone concerned with a community issue. They are democratically elected local authorities and exist in England, Wales and Scotland. The term 'Local Council' is synonymous with ' Parish Council, 'Town Council' and 'Community Council'.
Local Councils are made up of locally elected Councillors. They are legally obliged to hold at least four meetings a year. Most meet on a monthly cycle to discuss council business and hear from local residents. District and County Councillors regularly attend parish meetings and report at the Annual Parish meeting.
We normally meet on the fourth Tuesday of every month and meetings commence at 7.30pm lasting around 2 hours in Harling Old School Hall. Councillors are expected to attend meetings on a regular basis.
Councillors must abide by a Code of Conduct, a set of rules on how Councillors are expected to behave. They must also declare their financial interests in the parish, details of which are kept by the District Council.